Arri Alexa XT brings “Free State of Jones” to life on the big screen

by Trenton Massey


Posted on Jul 11, 2016 4:00:00 PM


When you think about the 1800s and the Civil War, a digital camera probably doesn’t come to mind. 

But the future of Hollywood is here, and it's taken the form of the Arri Alexa XT. 

Out of all of the film’s that have touched on the war between the Confederacy and the Union, Free State of Jones manages to travel into the grey area of the civil war and stick up for the southern residents that were opposed to the confederacy. It was a breath of fresh air in a sea of recent films whose settings take place in the south and revolve around racial tension. 

Part of the success of the film can be attributed to the humble, straight forward cinematography that keeps you engaged in the moment and doesn’t stop to gloat or show off.

Let’s take a look at how old meets new inside the movie.

Arri Alexa XT brings “Free State of Jones” to life on the big screen

Director Gary Ross scored with his adaptation of this inspiring true story. Ross has written and directed such films as Pleasantville, Seabiscuit, and The Hunger Games. He made his break in the eighties writing the classic film Big starring Tom Hanks and more recently is set to direct Ocean’s Eight

Teaming with him on Jones is French cinematographer Benoit Delhomme. This pairing is sure to yield incredible results and sure enough, he and the team delivered.

 Arri Alexa XT brings “Free State of Jones” to life on the big screen

Delhomme’s known for films such as The Theory of Everything, 1408, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, all of which have their own unique visual style. 

His choice to use the Arri Alexa XT seemed to fit the tone of the film. 

The film had minimal digital smear which is hard to get away from under certain lighting conditions, but for the most part, I was unable to distinguish whether it had been shot on film or digitally. 

Delhomme told Panavision

My first inclination was to shoot with anamorphic lenses. I still consider the range of anamorphic lenses from Panavision as the very best in the market. Gary was tempted at first, but changed his mind very late in prep. He decided he wanted to shoot 1.85 and spherical to keep that idea of documentary style. He was afraid that anamorphic would create too much of a ‘cinema look.’...Well, when Gary stopped the anamorphic options, I thought about using Panavision's vintage, or legacy, lenses. I am a huge fan of the Ultra Speeds and of the Super Speeds. I wanted to shoot all with primes, but I quickly realized that, with Gary, I needed to be covered with zooms, too, so I ended up with the whole range of Primo zooms. I had to mix together vintage, Primos and zooms of all sorts!

 

Free State of Jones Basic Tech Specifications

Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1

Arri Alexa XT, Panavision Primo, PVintage, SS and US Lenses

Negative Format - Codex

Cinematographic Process - Arriraw (3.4K) (Source format)

Digital Intermediate (Master Format)

Printed Film Format: 

D-Cinema

Arri Alexa XT brings “Free State of Jones” to life on the big screen


 

Delhomme made his digital debut with the film Lawless where he used the 1st generation Arri Alexa camera and has used upgraded versions of the camera on every film since. 

For most DP’s who come from a strong background in shooting 35mm, the Arri Alexa seems to be the most preferred camera amongst veterans. Why, might you ask? Highlight rollover, color tone, grain structure, low light performance might have a lot to do with it, but the ergonomic design is the number one reason why DP’s run to the Arri Alexa when transitioning over.

This film made good use of the camera’s abilities overall and was the right candidate for this film’s dramatic tone in my opinion. 

Using a camera like the RED weapon or even a Sony Camera might have given us a different quality of viewing experience in my opinion


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